Every July, at the end of the financial year, we look back on the past 12 months at Orange Sky. It’s always interesting to reflect on all that’s happened and how far we’ve come.

Normally, I’d be telling you about the key milestones we hit, new communities we’re supporting, or vans that we’ve built – but this past year looked a little different.

The pandemic forced us to stop, reset and revise how we operate. The way we delivered our services changed the day we paused our shifts last March. And although everything looks different in a COVID-19 world, one thing has remained the same – conversations on orange chairs between friends and volunteers.

That’s why our focus for the past 12 months has been about exactly that – continuing to deliver the greatest impact and support for our friends doing it tough.

How did we do this?

Firstly, we strengthened our health and safety systems to enable us to continue operating our free laundry and shower services throughout the pandemic, whilst ensuring the safety of our community.

We evolved our volunteer and service provider model, and now have more than 2,000 volunteers supporting our mission, as well as many new service providers that we operate alongside.

We launched our five year strategy, with plans for how Orange Sky will positively connect communities from now through till 2025. Our main goal by the year 2025 is to support more than 40,000 people (tripling our impact) and doing it twice as efficiently. This means more people helped, more conversations with friends and more incredible supporters enabling this magic to happen.

Most importantly though, over the last 12 months, we supported more than 13,700 people through 33,943 loads of laundry, 9,071 showers and 64,353 hours of genuine conversation (delivered across 8,723 shifts).

We might not have added any new bright orange vans or services to our Orange Sky family, but we’re proud that we’ve been able to continue supporting friends during some of the toughest times in our (nearly) seven year history.

So what does the next 12 months look like for us?

Well, for starters, we want to continue growing our impact. We’re hoping to positively connect 22,400 people by June 2022 – which means we want to deliver 1,400 shifts every month.

Having recently completed our Remote Venture Trip, we’re looking to expand our reach across Australia with a focus on remote communities – more to come on this soon!

We also want to focus on looking after the people who look after our friends, by providing our volunteers with additional training, development and resources. This will not only ensure the health and safety of our community, but will also enable more shifts to operate. A key part of this will be giving some ‘TLC’ to our vans that are starting to get on in age.

We will continue building new innovations through Team Delta to enable us to help more friends and continue building a more efficient and sustainable organisation. This includes growing Volaby – our volunteer management software solution that we’ve developed for the not-for-profit sector – and increasing the number of charity partners using the product.

Lastly, we are looking to improve our sustainability, as well as our environmental and social policies (orange is the new green!). Watch this space for some exciting developments on more energy efficient vehicles and a more connected Orange Sky community.

We’re incredibly excited for what the next 12 months have in store for Orange Sky. Even though the pandemic continues to impact all our lives, we’re grateful for the opportunity to be out there connecting with friends through genuine and non-judgemental conversation. 

I have been lucky enough to spend some time on a number of different shifts over the last couple of months and have been blown away by the incredible connections that happen every day of the week.

Recently I headed out to a cold evening shift at a community centre in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I had never been there before and am always excited to experience a new shift. When I arrived, the volunteers were set up, there were a few loads of washing in the machine and most of the friends were grabbing a meal inside. I noticed an AFL ball sitting on one of the chairs, but didn’t give it much of a thought. 

I started chatting to the volunteers and a few people around the van, including a friend named Jane*. Jane is a mum of five who struggles week-to-week to pay bills, so she comes along to this shift to have a meal and to do her washing. Jane also loves a chat. It was around this point I noticed the ball was being kicked behind the van, but I couldn’t see who was playing. 

A few of Jane’s kids were a bit shy and remained in her van, however she mentioned that her eldest daughter loved coming to shift every week, kicking the footy after dinner and chatting to the volunteers. Jane told me that her daughter’s connection with one particular volunteer, Tessa, was something she spoke about long after they left shift. It was a moment that reminded me of the power of connections that are formed between everyday people – some of who are wearing an Orange Sky shirt, and some who aren’t. 

*Name has been changed

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